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Hard to Be a God (Rediscovered Classics) Kindle Edition
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From the Publisher
About the Author
Arkady and Boris Strugatsky were famous and popular Russian writers of science fiction, with more than 25 novels and novellas to their names, including The Doomed City, The Inhabited Island, and Roadside Picnic. Hari Kunzru is the author of several highly praised novels, including Gods Without Men and The Impressionist. Olena Bormashenko is the critically acclaimed translator of the Strugatskys’ Roadside Picnic. --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
“An enjoyable, exciting, and gratifying novel.” —New York Times
“A thoroughly good book . . . robust, imaginative, satisfying.” —Ursula K. Le Guin
“One of the most skillfully written, heavily freighted science fiction novels I have ever read. . . . The writing is well paced and the narrative is beautifully structured.” —Theodore Sturgeon
“This long-overdue translation will reintroduce one of the most profound Soviet-era novels to an eager audience.” —Literalab
“This is a crisp, new translation of a highly influential 1964 Russian sf novel by the Strugatsky brothers… the story and themes will resonate as much with modern audiences as they did with readers in the mid-1960s.” —Library Journal
“Hard to be a God is at once a plucky adventure novel and an anxious, sensitive vision of rising totalitarianism...sandwiched between an excellent introduction from novelist Hari Kunzru and an enlightening afterword from coauthor Boris Strugatsky, Hard to be a God is a worthwhile read, one that entertains even as it provokes.” —Weekly Alibi
“The stature of Hard to Be a God as the richest of their [the Strugatsky brothers’] novels—and one of the most popular Russian science-fiction novels—will surely be enhanced by Olena Bormashenko’s nuanced translation, far superior to that of its previous edition.” —World Literature Today
“[A] rewarding new translation.” —Publishers Weekly --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
- File size : 1830 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 258 pages
- ASIN : B00K4JX2FM
- Publisher : Chicago Review Press; 1st edition (June 1, 2014)
- Publication date : June 1, 2014
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Language: : English
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Lending : Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #257,763 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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For entertainment value, this is, to my taste, the better of the two. I wasn’t blown away, but I did enjoy reading it.
In answer to my question, though, the only respect in which it is science fiction is offstage; we know that Don Rumata is an alien from an advanced culture off somewhere who is trying to uplift the benighted primitives of a society at a renaissance level of technology. However, in dealing with them, he does so at their level.
He is an impossibly good swordsman, presumably due to advanced training techniques, not really described.
As to the action, this is a swashbuckling story much of the sort that Rafael Sabatini did better, and Dumas did much better. It’s worth reading twice, but not as science fiction. It could have been relocated to 16th century Spain, and tweaked a bit to make the hero an Italian master swordsman trying to save victims of the Spanish Inquisition, and remained much the same story.
So, I want more. This work showed up with very little search effort, and I like it almost as much. Although written half a century ago, it's aged well. In some far future time (when the Soviet ideals have been achieved, of course), Our Hero goes to work as spy/provocateur on some distant planet. For reasons unspecified - convergent evolution, long lost colonization, or lack of imagination - Our Hero and his hi-tech backing gain him a high position in the feudal society. Since this was written and even published within the Soviet world, it examines the pre-Renaissance society in terms of Marxian inevitability (and Soviet superiority).
But things don't actually go according to historical inevitability. Whatever in that world is nasty, brutish, and short appears contagious - agents have to take on things like hallway discussion in the torture school as a routine matter. This, and many other things (often modeled on the practices and even personalities of their own repressive regime) undermine his wall between "them" and "me," however tightly he tried to maintain it.Society degrades into something - maybe a stylized Fascism - that goes the wrong way. Far beyond any point I could make sense of, Our Hero continues to hold sway within this corrupt society of vindictive leaders as they hew their way through the citizenry. In the end, though, "... there was no one left to speak for me."
But my summary over-simplifies the many acute observations written here, and the tone of word choice as it grays toward the end. It's not an easy read, and likely to push some buttons, and actually has two endings (the end, and the what comes after) that don't seem to support the nominal ideals of either society. A bit abrupt, perhaps, but possibly meaningful. I still haven't worked that out for myself.
So, by raw chance, I saw a used DVD for sale, I had to grab it. It's long, a tad under 3hr, and I wonder how this will translate to imagery. But I plan to find out.
Top reviews from other countries
As a book it is, in parts, a bit unrefined, but its it has a real emotional power, combined with a kind of space opera detachment typical of some sci-fi. But I think this works and is deliberate, because these are the themes of the book.
I think this is a classic.
(STOP READING HERE - if you don't want to hear a spoiler).
This was of course written by Russian authors under the Soviet system. I have seen reviews which have noted its subversive elements - down to details such as making the really vicious character's name a near-anagram of Beria (Stalin's secret police enforcer). I have also seen reviews, and noted myself when reading, that it is immersed in traditional Marxist historical materialism and the sense that history has a path and a logic.
So the central character Don Rumata tries to stick to his duty to remain an non-intervening observer from a more technologically advanced society. The rule is he must not play God in the medieval world where he is an undercover agent. But in the end, he cracks. Personal emotional involvement and his rage at the medieval-fascism become too much and he goes on a rampage against 'the baddies'. The epilogue reveals he has been ttreated back home for his trauma.
(Note that the film ends very slightly differently).
This can be seen as a critique of the 'scientific' and clinically deterministic approach of pure Marxist theory (ie history will follow its inevitable path to enlightenment and then communism). Thus Rumata rebels against that clinical theory, because as a real human being he cannot be detached and cannot cut off from human relationships and emotions and, perhaps, no longer trusts the theorists have got it right.
But I could see why Soviet censors could tolerate, or did not spot, this possible way of looking at it. Because from another perspective Don Rumata could be regarded as a kind of political vanguardist. A man who, from his position of higher knowledge and advancement, sees what must happen to liberate people from tyranny and superstition and is prepared to act. He is a revolutionary.
This conflict between the supposed inevitablity of history and the reality of revolutionary politics which requires people to take personal action (and strong leaders to guide) seems to me to be to be a long-running conundrum within classic Marxism. I think it is recognised by both anti-Marxists and many Marxists themselves.
What I have just written seems a bit crude when I read it back and I certainly don't want to suggest any simple political messages in this book or any deliberate fine-tuned theoretically thinking by the Strugatskys. But the book is immersed in Marxist culture and theory and its thinking about the conflicts between theory/practice, and the role of groups and individual action in historical change. I suspect it would be readily have been understood in those terms by Party theorists or censors in Soviet Russia when it was written. It raises many questions that are uncomfortable for Soviet Russian, but it does so from within Marxist culture and shares many of its presumptions.
But what I feel this book brings across is that human interaction with history is complex and the answers are not easy. Whatever the truths of historical materialism or any political theory, the dominant force that actually touches us, makes us feel and so shapes our lives (and our stories) is our humanity in both its most noble and its ugliest forms.
What is more, at times human nobility and ugliness exist side by side or they morph into each other. Honest efforts not to 'play God' with weaker people can be a mask for cold heartlessness or an excuse for turning away from horror. But a desire to intervene out of an apparently altruistic desire to do good, may in fact mask a personal interest. And genuine heartfelt indignation at injustice can transform in a moment to violent, sadistic vengeance.